Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Natural resources professor leads BLM research project

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers are leading a multi-state team to develop a survey guide the Bureau of Land Management will use at sites they manage across the nation.

The project will provide a standardized process and develop a managers’ guide for administering surveys to recreationists. Not only will it explain how to gather data but how to analyze and incorporate it into planning to help ensure recreation management is consistent with the desires of the public.

SNRE Associate Professor Peter Fix, who has been conducting research for the BLM for the past nine years, heads up the project, which involves researchers from Colorado and Arizona who have worked extensively with the BLM in the southwest U.S. The research team is compiling visitor surveys and focus group protocols from prior research related to BLM-managed lands. After reviewing, they will develop a visitor survey and focus group protocol to be administered as part of the BLM’s national recreation planning strategy.  After obtaining the Office of Management and Budget stamp of approval, BLM can use it at public land recreation areas. The survey and manages’ guide link to the recently released BLM Handbook 8320-1 Planning for Recreation and Visitor Services.

That handbook instructs the BLM to gather information related to outcomes recreational visitor desire and their preferences for management prior to developing a resource management plan. The survey and managers’ guide are expected to be completed by January 2016.  In the three years after completion, the BLM anticipates the survey could be administered at 108 sites across the 12 states in which they manage land.

“If BLM managers are writing a resource management plan with a recreation component, they can use these tools,” Fix said. “It will give consistency in data collection.”

The manual will provide BLM managers the ability to do these tasks in-house and compare data across sites. “They can look for patterns and trends,” Fix said. “They’ll be able to understand the outcomes of the recreation that takes place on the land.”

Field staff without a lot of survey research experience should be able to use the new tool, Fix said. “If field staff can gather data and incorporate it into the planning process, it will be a successful project,” he said.

The current research not only builds on outcomes focused management studies conducted by UAF and other researchers, but will institutionalize that knowledge into BLM planning at the national level. The ultimate goal is to better understand the relationship between visitors, community service delivery networks and BLM lands so that recreation opportunities are maximized.

Sustainability science explained

“What the heck is this thing called sustainability science?” Assistant Professor Sarah Trainor asked high school students at UAF’s Inside Out event March 27. “It’s about solving problems, not just doing interesting science. It’s striving to improve society’s capacity to use the Earth to meet the needs of a growing population and sustainably support systems.”
Students experienced a college lecture by Assistant Professor Sarah Trainor (middle with orange scarf). At far left is NRM senior Nicole Warner, who led the visiting high schoolers for Inside Out March 27.

During a mock lecture designed to give students a taste of college academics, Trainor gave a preview of her course, Natural Resources Management 111. She asked the students what sustainability means to them. Some answers were: “consistency,” “something that won’t run out” and “something that keeps going.”

“Sustainability is a verb, a process, a way to use the environment and resources to meet our needs and the needs of people in the future,” Trainor said.

People are part of the system, she emphasized. And while the Earth is full of challenges, her class doesn’t focus on the negative but rather on ways to create solutions. Students work with the UAF Office of Sustainability to problem solve real issues facing the campus today, such as studying the use of LED lights on the ski trails, alternate fuel for vehicles and the amount of waste from vending machines.

Ecosystem services encompass natural capital such as air, water, soil and land and each system has assets that are natural, human made or social. Sustainability science focuses on water and food security, clean energy, mitigating human health impacts of pollution and environmental degradation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, protecting biodiversity and environmental justice.

“Sustainability science transcends disciplinary boundaries,” she said.

She described a complex system covering relationships between science, policy, management and decision making. “We use science to solve problems and can be the connection between science and government.”

A way to make science relevant is to use it to solve problems in practical ways. “For science to be relevant it must be credible and legitimate.”

In her course, she emphasizes the importance of reading, writing, listening and giving presentations. “It all comes down to communication,” she said.

The goal is for students to learn skills so they can be out in the world solving problems.

Earliest calf in history arrives at Fairbanks Experiment Farm

When Reindeer Research Program employee Darrell Blodgett took his morning walk Sunday, March 29 he stopped to check on the reindeer at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm and discovered the birth of the earliest calf ever to arrive at the farm.

A first-time reindeer mother follows her frisky calf at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm Monday.
He immediately texted animal caretaker Erin Carr to give her the news and said he would leave the afterbirth for her to clean up. "The calf looked good and dry and there were no ravens around so I went down below to check the other deer," Blodgett said.

Carr arrived shortly after, amazed at the March birth. She weighed the calf at 13.42 pounds, a healthy weight. She said 41 cows went into harem in August and about 30 calves are expected this spring.

School children who want to help name reindeer calves can do so here. Names are submitted and held till August when the RRP crew matches names to calves.

In the meantime, the new calf frolicking about the pens at the farm has been dubbed 1501, for the year 2015 and being the first calf to arrive.

Darrell Blodgett captured this image of the mother and calf Sunday morning.

Further reading:

Year's first reindeer calf born at UAF, Fairbanks Daily News Miner, March 31, 2015, by Jeff Richardson

Monday, March 30, 2015

OneTree Alaska prepares for classroom science observations

With a few snips and the gathering of birch branches on the UAF campus March 28, spring officially began for OneTree Alaska.
Jan Dawe marks a tree to have a few branches cut from its top.

The UAF grounds and labor crew sent a bucket truck to retrieve branches from the tops of six designated birch trees. Assistant Professor Jan Dawe whisked the labeled twigs to chill them  at 37 degrees. At the right time she will take the branches to six area classrooms where 200 children will make science observations about the leaf out process.

Teachers involved in the project will train with Dawe on campus, getting to know "their" tree and describing the characteristics for comparison sake.

Jamie Byrd gathers birch branches.
"It's a very good year for birch," Dawe said. "There are more seeds because the trees had the right amount of water and the right temperatures."

Gathering branches from the tallest part of trees is beneficial because they get the fullest sun and are more likely to have male catkins, Dawe explained.

Further reading:

Ideal conditions create bounty of birch seeds in Interior Alaska, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, March 29, 2015, by Jeff Richardson

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Learn to build a log cabin with Robert Chambers

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will hold a hands-on class in building an energy efficient, green, full scribe log structure May 6-29 in Palmer.
A scene of a previous log cabin workshop hosted by UAF.
The workshop will be taught by Robert Chambers, an authority on handcrafted log home construction. The classes are facilitated by UAF assistant professor Valerie Barber. Basic procedures and techniques will be described and practiced to help even the novice get started with a project. Building an energy-efficient log home requires the highest level of craftsmanship to meet modern standards of airtightness, indoor air quality, safety, comfort and durability.

Instruction includes safety, chain saw use, maintenance, cutting demonstration, practicing notches, ripping and scribing logs and building roof trusses. The final product will be a log shell with roof trusses. Cost of the workshop is $2,000 and registration is available here.

Chambers has been building log homes since 1983 and teaching log construction since 1988. He is the author of the bestselling log home construction textbook and DVD, Log Construction Manual, and the inventor of log construction methods, products and machinery. He holds U.S. and foreign patents for log construction inventions.

The workshop will be held at the Matanuska Experiment Farm, 1509 S. Georgeson Road. For more information, contact Barber at 907-746-9466 or vabarber@alaska.edu.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Long-time interior farmer starts over in Hawaii

A long-time fixture at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market will no longer sell perennials there. While Tracy Pulido will miss the friends she made at the market, she is deliriously happy at her new farm in Hawaii.
Harmony enjoys her ocean view.

Pulido, who lived in interior Alaska since 1983 and had been operating Chena Lakes Farm, pulled out all stops last fall and relocated to Ninole, about 20 miles north of Hilo, taking her three donkeys along.

“We are all liking it here very much,” Pulido said.

Just getting the donkeys to Hawaii proved quite the ordeal. Prior to the trip, Pulido had the animals practice getting in a trailer, then they rode to California. Due to a rash on her legs from gnat bites, one of the donkeys almost wasn’t allowed on the ship, causing Pulido much anguish.

During the week-long journey, the salt air cleared up the rash. The woman scheduled to pick up the animals in Honolulu canceled but someone else agreed to get them on a boat to the Big Island. The farrier who met them told Pulido all three of them leapt into the trailer they were so happy to be off the boat.

“They have a little barn but refuse to go in it except to eat their treat because they think someone may lock them in and put them on a boat again,” Pulido said. “When it rains they go and stand under the mango trees.”
Tracy Pulido

One huge advantage of Hawaii over Alaska is Pulido doesn’t have to buy hay to feed; the donkeys eat the grass on her 3.4 acres of land. “I’m not biting my hails if I’m going to be able to get enough hay. They munch on the grass and it’s perfect for donkeys. They do well on it.”

The one drawback is Pulido misses her husband Robert who stayed in North Pole until the farm and lodge are sold.

“I was tired of the smog in Fairbanks,” Pulido said of her decision to relocate. While vacationing in Hawaii she realized how much she liked it and started looking for property. “I convinced my husband to invest,” she said. They bought a little 1920s plantation home, “a real fixer upper,” she said. “It has a nice fenced pasture and the donkeys have a million-dollar view of the ocean.”

 “There is excellent potential here,” Pulido said. “I have 18 inches of Hilo loam and we are on a plateau with good drainage.” The property has bananas, oranges, lemons, mulberries and 70-foot mango trees.

“It’s very green all the time,” she said. “I don’t have to water and the temperatures are perfect all time. It’s 80 in the day and 65 to 70 at night.”

After learning the fauna of her new locale, she plans to specialize in flowering shrubs and sell them at the farmers market, just as she did in Fairbanks. “I have to re-learn all my plants,” she said.

She purchased an encyclopedia of tropical plants and is starting to recognize some of them, noting there are lots of orange and red plants.  “In Fairbanks there are three kinds of trees and here there are hundreds,” she said.

Another difference is Pulido will need to fertiliz in Hawaii. “I’ll need to compost more,” she said. The frequent heavy rain washes nutrients away, but she is pleased as punch with her soil. “It’s a clay-like rich loam the color of poop. I’m on the side of the island with good soil because a volcano hasn’t erupted in 7,000 years. It’s old soil.”

She is mulling over a name for her new farm and is considering “Lohi Lalo,” which means slow down.

“I like changing careers every 10 years,” she said. “I’m happy and I’m committed to staying.”

Monday, March 16, 2015

New volunteer corps will care for trees

A new program called Alaska Community Tree Stewards will train people to care for Alaska's trees and forests.

A workshop will be held May 5-19 from 5:45 to 9 p.m. at the UAF Cooperative Extension Service Tanana Valley District office, 724 27th Ave. in Fairbanks. Registration is limited to the first 25 people who apply.

This is a basic introduction to urban tree care, however, arborists, foresters and other tree care professionals are welcome to attend, practice skills and share knowledge with others.

Certificates will be given to those who attend all sessions and pass an open-book test. Participants are also asked to volunteer 15 hours during the next year on community forestry projects.

Learn about:
• tree biology — how trees work
• selecting trees and shrubs for Fairbanks
• selecting the right tree for the site
• planting and caring for trees and shrubs
• tree and shrub identification
• problem diagnosis
• insect and disease prevention & treatment
• pruning — why, how, and when
• volunteer opportunities

There will be outdoor, hands-on practice in tree identification, planting and pruning.

International Society of Arboriculture continuing education credits will be offered for ISA certified arborists.

Applications and the class syllabus are available online or at the Division of Forestry office at 3700 Airport Way in Fairbanks. A $25 fee helps cover the costs of materials, publications and refreshments.

Applications are due by Tuesday, April 28. Send to
patricia.joyner@alaska.gov or mail to:
Alaska Division of Forestry 550 W. 7th Avenue, Suite 1450 Anchorage, AK 99501.

Wood bison prepare for move to western Alaska

If the weather cooperates, 100 wood bison from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center south of Anchorage will be flown to a new home in remote Western Alaska by the end of the month.

Roughly 50 adult cows -- 25 of which are pregnant -- and 50 yearling wood bison will be loaded into an HC-130 cargo plane and flown to an area near the village of Shageluk in the last weeks of March, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Wildlife Conservation regional program manager Cathie Harms said Friday.
Using the Lynden Air Cargo turboprop, flights could start on March 22 and possibly be completed by March 24. Ideally, there will be two flights a day, holding 14 to 30 bison, depending on the size of each of the animals, Harms said.

The plane will also carry one biologist or a veterinarian to watch over the animals during transport. Other Fish and Game workers will fly separately to Shageluk to help with the release.
In the week leading up to the wood bison departure, conservation center marketing director Scott Michaelis said, Fish and Game will send its wildlife transport “A team” to the center near the head of Turnagain Arm to prepare for the move.

Harms said this will be the last opportunity to give the wood bison vitamin supplements and teach the humans how to load and transport the bison, which can weigh anywhere from 1,000 to 2,600 pounds when full-grown.

The first step in moving the animals will be separating the designated wood bison from the herd, Harms said.

“They are herding animals. They don’t like to be alone,” Harms said. “You can’t just say, ‘OK, well, now it's your turn.'”

Once cut free from the herd, the wood bison will be loaded into what Harms described as a “modified Conex container.” Adults will be separated into stalls and calves will be in small groups inside stalls.
The container will then be loaded aboard the HC-130.

Once the animals arrive in Shageluk, the shipping containers will be moved by tractor about five miles to where the bison will be released into a temporary holding pen. There the animals will have time to adjust to their new surroundings and de-stress.

“If you just let them loose, they would scatter and there’d be no herd,” Harms said.

Eventually, the herd will be released from the holding pen and led by Fish and Game, using food drops, to sedge meadows along the Innoko River.

Moving the wood bison is bittersweet for Fish and Game, as well as for the conservation center. The move has been more than 20 years in the making as officials struggled over how to classify the transplant of animals that went extinct in Alaska in relatively recent times. 

Concerns arose among some that if the bison were considered a replacement for extinct animals, they might be classified as endangered species in Alaska, creating all sorts of management problems. So an agreement was worked out to stock the bison as part of an experimental transplant.

“The process has been very long,” Harms said. “It’s a really good feeling to know Alaska is going to have wood bison again.”

Fish and Game hopes to move an additional 20 bulls to the area this coming summer. The wildlife conservation center will have 10 bison left when the restoration project is complete.

(This article was written by Megan Edge, Alaska Dispatch News, originally published March 7, 2015 and reprinted with permission.)

Note: Hay grown at the Matanuska Experiment Farm has been feeding the wood bison since they arrived at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Further reading:
Bison reintroduction on its way to reality, SNRE Science and News, Oct. 24, 2008, by Nancy Tarnai (interview with the late School of Natural Resources alumnus Randy Rogers who worked on the wood bison reintroduction project for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for nearly two decades)

New summer field course concentrates on forests

A new field course emphasizing forest ecology will be offered May 11-20 in Juneau. Field Methods for Research Techniques in Southeast Alaska will cover forest age structure, spatial analyses, biomass estimation, soil classification, habitat structure and management-oriented treatments and experimental design.

Students will practice each technique in a hands-on fashion utilizing existing experiments and ongoing study locations.

The course can substitute for the NRM 290 field course Resources Management Issues at High Latitude.

Instructor Brian Buma is an assistant professor of forest ecosystem ecology at the University of Alaska Southeast.

The CRN is 52038, course number ENVS S293, section J01.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Museum lecture addresses better understanding of the world’s most misunderstood animals

It’s not often a scientist gets to document the recovery of an ecosystem.

When Kasatochi – a volcanic island in Southwest Alaska’s Aleutian chain – erupted in 2008, the lush seabirds’ paradise was turned into a pile of mud and ash overnight. But the museum’s curator of insects knew it could be a valuable opportunity for science.
This is a plant bug in the genus Lygus. Some species of Lygus are known agricultural pests, one of which damages peony buds in Alaska.

Derek Sikes had spent a day on the island two months before it erupted. That meant he could compare the island’s ecosystem to its pre-eruption condition.

“I first thought it would be years of mud, ash and no life but was surprised to find insect activity within a year of the eruption,” he said. “Most, and possibly all, of the species appear to be survivors rather than new colonists. It's an amazing opportunity to see how an ecosystem assembles."
Derek Sikes

At a Museum Discovery Series presentation on Thursday, March 12, Sikes will address the challenges of documenting the arthropod diversity of the North. That includes the good and the bad.

While insects are the largest consumers of vegetation in Alaska – 30 million spruce trees were killed by spruce bark beetles during the 1990s – insects are also a major source of nutrition and instrumental in food production, as well as an indicator of climate change. They even provide forensic clues used to solve crimes.

Insects are like the glue in the food web, providing a safety net for the survival of birds and other animals. They pollinate, assist in decomposition and even move fungus around. Sikes said that if all the insects disappeared overnight, after the initial celebration died down, people would start to notice disastrous effects.

“Animals like birds, bats and fish would starve to death, leading to the loss of larger animals. And the lack of pollination would eventually cause many plants to disappear, including coffee and chocolate. The world would be a sadder place without butterflies, bumblebees and dragonflies. Many ecosystems would change so radically as to be empty shadows of their former selves."

Despite their vital role, most people only notice insects when they are being bugged. They notice the scary ones, the spiders, yellow jackets and other stinging insects. But Sikes says the majority of arthropods fly, crawl and burrow completely under the radar.

These organisms may be tiny, but they are large in number. One estimate claims that two out of every three creatures known on Earth are arthropods.

It doesn’t seem likely that a division of animals responsible for more than 80 percent of the earth’s biodiversity would be suffering from lack of attention, but it turns out that the world’s insects are poorly understood.

More than a million species of animals have been described by scientists; most of them are insects. And even though another 10,000 are identified as new to science each year, experts say there are more insects that have not been described than there are named species. “We haven’t even hit the half-way mark,” Sikes said.

There are the thousands of specimens awaiting identification in museum collections across the world. In fact, researchers today discover more new animals and plants by investigating specimens accumulated in scientific collections than they do by conducting fieldwork in remote landscapes.

“We find species new to science faster than we can describe them,” Sikes said. “At the UA Museum of the North we've accumulated over 160 specimens belonging to an estimated 22 species that are probably new to science. Since I arrived in 2006, I've described as new two different Alaska species.”
Sikes said the scientists he works with also find new state records all the time. These are already described species that have never been reported in Alaska before. Since 2006, the list of new records has grown to more than 1,000 species.

The specimens in the museum’s insect collection support various efforts to learn new things – everything from the rate of repopulation of Kasatochi to climate change. The climate here is changing faster than in lower latitudes. That means time is running out to properly document pre-warming Alaska. If researchers can develop a better baseline, they’ll be able to see if local species have declined or expanded their range, or even adapted in other ways.

Having a good understanding of a system before it changes is critical to knowing what's going on in nature. Sikes said it’s a lesson he’s learned from the Kasatochi eruption. “Let's just hope Alaska as a whole changes more gradually."

Insect curator Derek Sikes offers the next presentation in the Museum Discovery Series at the UA Museum of the North on Thursday, March 12 at 6 p.m.,” Alaska’s butterflies, beetles and bees:  Documenting the Biodiversity of the North.” There will be specimens and objects from the museum’s insect collection on display starting at 5:30 p.m.

This article was written by Theresa Bakker, manager of Marketing and Communication at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Contact her by phone at 474-6941 or by email at tabakker@alaska.edu.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

11th annual Alaska Sustainable Ag Conference helps farmers define goals

Over 200 long time farmers, aspiring green thumbs and other interested parties convened at the 11th annual Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Conference March 3-5 in Fairbanks.

Brad St. Pierre of Goosefoot Farm (left) and William Wilkins, natural resources management graduate student, talk about agriculture during a break.
Topics from holistic farming to budgeting to grafting to overwintering bees were addressed in 40 sessions. Phil Metzger of Holistic Management International taught a full-day preconference workshop on farm planning and improved decision making to 45 people who left impressed with the planning methods presented.

Another keynote speaker who grabbed the attendees' interest was Gina Greenway of the College of Idaho. The ag economist spoke on developing niche markets for Alaska and developing enterprise budgets for profitable farm management.

The theme of the conference was "defining our goals."

During breaks, attendees shared their goals for Alaska agriculture.

Emily Reiter, president of the Master Gardeners of the Tanana Valley, said, "I would love to see us rely more on local growers. There are so many people talented at growing but most of us get our food at the grocery store."

 Dorothy Shockley, technical assistance specialist for the Intertribal Agriculture Council, encouraged people to think about food security when voting for elected officials. "They are focused on oil and gas and we need to think about food security," she said.

Darren Snyder, Extension agent in Juneau and a representative on the Alaska Food Policy Council, said, "Produce more food and connect with buyers. We need to increase the amount people are willing to pay for food. Our food is worth more than we're paying for it. Spending more is justified for Alaska products."

Amy Pettit of the Division of Agriculture said she hopes to maintain the momentum. "There's a lot of positivity and momentum in the industry right now and I hope we can maintain that."

Lynn Mayo of Spinach Creek Farm said her goal is to get more local food out to the public.

Amy Seitz, executive director of the Alaska Farm Bureau, said, "Working together would be a good goal. People should get involved and be more vocal in agriculture groups."

At the conference, 19 exhibits, including two tractors, were on display in the Westmark's Gold Room. Conference organizers said the event would not have been possible without the 10 organizations and businesses that provided sponsorships.

Extension's Tanana District Agent Steven Seefeldt, Program Assistant Darcy Etcheverry and Administrative Assistant Ronda Boswell organize the event each year and are planning on hosting it in Anchorage in 2016 to reach producers in southcentral Alaska.

Extension Agent Steve Brown of Palmer said, "I want to reiterate that this has been the absolute best sustainable ag conference we've ever had. Steven, Darcy and Ronda didn't kick it out of the park, but out of the state!"

Conference organizers Ronda Boswell (left) and Darcy Etcheverry learn to troubleshoot the light controls at the Westmark.
Two countries (U.S. and Canada), seven states and territories (Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Yukon Territory), and 27 cities (Anchorage, Anderson, Bethel, Big Lake, Chugiak, Clear, Dawson City, Delta Junction, Ester, Fairbanks, Glenallen, Haines, Healy, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Nenana, North Pole, Nuiqsut, Palmer, Ruby, Soldotna, Stevens Village, Talkeetna, Two Rivers, Wasilla, Whitehorse) were represented at the conference.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Washington/Alaska partnership furthers wheat research

Agricultural research by a Washington State University graduate student brings Alaska a step closer to a wheat variety adapted to the far north.
Karen Hills conducted research on wheat varieties for Alasaka at Mount Vernon Vernon Research Center in Washington.

Karen Hills, who grew up in Fairbanks and worked summers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station during high school, crossed several types of wheat to try to achieve a hard red spring variety that matures early and is shatter resistant. Most of her work was done at WSU’s Mount Vernon Research Center but she visited the Fairbanks Experiment Farm at UAF to see how the wheat was growing.

“This was a great opportunity to see how I could collaborate with UAF folks to benefit the work in Alaska,” Hills said. “We chose varieties that show promise.” They were Ingal, Roblin, AC Intrepid and CDC Bounty.

She said she hoped her work will eventually give more options for well-adapted wheat to grow in Alaska’s climate. “The varieties that were available were developed a long time ago and there hadn’t been much improvement,” Hills said. “I hope the work I did is helping growers.”

Professor Mingchu Zhang at UAF said the primary purpose of Hills’ research was to overcome the shattering issue of Ingal in the state’s short growing season. “After crossing, we are now in the field and selection processes,” Zhang said.  Over the past three years, he’s had only one year of reliable data due to extreme weather conditions. “We will continue for the selection until we select a no shattering, short growing wheat variety for Alaska,” he said.

Wheat suitable for Alaska’s short season would be in high demand, Zhang said. “If we have wheat that can grow here, then we will be able to provide Alaska with wheat flour. That will be big progress for Alaska’s food security.”

One farmer in Palmer grew the new wheat in 2013, and sold all his products in Anchorage markets.

Hills, who earned a Ph.D. in crop science from WSU, credited Glen Franklin of Delta Junction for helping fund her research. Franklin, retired from the Alaska Division of Agriculture, established an endowed graduate fellowship in crops and soils at WSU, stipulating that the research should benefit Alaska and Washington.

Hills began her work in the WSU greenhouses at Mount Vernon, grew the new crosses in the field and provided germplasm to UAF researchers Zhang and Bob Van Veldhuizen.

The work continues now at UAF. “We need to make continued evaluations of the three crosses for agronomic qualities, non-shatter seed when ripe, early maturity, high yields, no lodging, all compared to the same agronomic qualities of the parents  Ingal and the three Canadian wheat varieties,” Van Veldhuizen said. “We need to do this over a number of years to rule out goofy weather conditions like the drought of 2013 and the cool wet of 2014 at Fairbanks, Delta Junction and Palmer to see if it does better at one location. And then after comparing the three crosses we need to evaluate at least one, perhaps all three if all three are good enough, for milling and baking qualities.

“After all that we will pick the best selection for eventual release as a named variety,” Van Veldhuizen said. “All of which will take years yet to complete.”

He said another potential graduate student project at WSU would be evaluating the genetics within each cross to look at the genes for early maturity to determine if there is a link between early maturity and head shatter.

“The biggest problem will be how to do all this in times of increasing budget restrictions,” he said.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ag school at the foundation of UAF's history

The 63rd Congress was drawing to a close in early March 1915 as James Wickersham, Alaska’s territorial delegate, tried to get a bill passed to reserve some land for a college in far-off Alaska.

James Wickersham, Alaska's territorial delegate to Congress, speaks to a crowd gathered to dedicate a cornerstone for the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines on July 4, 1915. Congress had reserved land for the yet-to-be-created institution in March of that year.
March 4, 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of his victory and the first official act among several that created the University of Alaska.

Not all of Wickersham’s congressional colleagues thought a college in Alaska was a good idea. In fact, some were doing their best to torpedo Wickersham’s plan as the session’s end neared.
The tension of the House floor debate still comes through in the gray text of the March 3 Congressional Record.

“I submit to the gentleman,” Rep. Jacob Falconer of Washington told Wickersham, “that if he wishes to cut out the establishment of an agricultural institution I will not object to the bill. Otherwise I will object to it.”

“Of course I do not intend to do that,” Wickersham snapped back, “and the gentleman can, of course, object.”

“Then I object,” Falconer retorted.

Falconer’s objections notwithstanding, Wickersham won the day. The House passed the bill, and, on March 4, President Woodrow Wilson signed it.

As Wickersham noted many times during the debate, this was only a first step. The bill did not create a college. It simply reserved the land for one.

With the inertia behind that first act, though, Wickersham and other dreamers eventually established and built the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, renamed the University of Alaska in 1935.

Here on the Fairbanks campus, the carillon today will ring a special tune shortly after noon to mark the 100th anniversary of Wilson’s signature.

Wickersham had hoped his success would spur the Alaska Territorial Legislature to establish the college before it adjourned as well in 1915. It did not.

So, in an attempt to maintain the inertia, Wickersham poured a cement cornerstone on the designated site and gathered a ceremony to dedicate it on July 4, 1915. Two years later, the legislature finally approved the college.

The university will rededicate that cornerstone on July 6.

Wickersham’s victory in the 63rd Congress came despite much derision. In addition to a site for the university, the bill reserved revenue-producing land not only for the college but also for Alaska’s public elementary and secondary schools. The legislation’s broader purpose didn’t make the idea any more palatable to some.

 “I do not believe that now is the time to put an educational institution in the Territory of Alaska,” Falconer, the Washington representative, told his colleagues during debate on the House floor March 3. “With 35,000 people in the Territory, one-quarter as big as the United States, they could not find a man in a hundred square miles at this time. We had better wait until we develop the rich country in Alaska, which is in the vicinity of but south of the Yukon River.”

The college location, on federal land earlier reserved for an experiment station near Fairbanks, was chosen “irrespective of the desire of the people of Alaska as may be expressed by their legislative assembly,” said Rep. Patrick Norton of North Dakota during a Feb. 24 debate on the House floor.  The provision, he said, “savors altogether too much of special congressional legislation for the benefit of a particular city or locality in Alaska.”

Wickersham couldn’t let that provocation pass unchallenged. When the bill came back to the House floor on March 3, he didn’t even wait for opponents to bring up the point.

“I have here a telegram,” he said in his opening remarks, “signed by the governor of Alaska and by 19 out of a possible 24 members of the legislature, approving the location of this agricultural college and school of mines upon this identical tract of land. And for the benefit of the gentleman from Washington, I will read it.” Which he did.

The Senate passed the bill first, on Feb. 17. In addition, Wickersham had the Wilson administration’s support. “I feel that Alaska in its present undeveloped state needs encouragement, and believe that the Territory should be favored by the reservation of lands for educational purposes,” said Secretary of Agriculture David Houston in a Feb. 10 letter to the House committee considering the bill.

Sometimes during the House debate, though, Wickersham seemed damned by the faint praise of his supporters.

“An agricultural college anywhere else in Alaska — and I’m not sure but one at this place — would be a joke,” said Rep. James Mann of Illinois. “But if it is to be located up there at all, at present, it ought to be located at the experiment station.”

Despite such lukewarm endorsements, House members passed the bill before the March 3 legislative day ended. It was the last bill approved in the 63rd Congress.

A few pages later in the Congressional Record of March 4, a brief note marks the victory and the first official act toward creation of the University of Alaska:

 “A message from the President of the United States, by Mr. Latta, one of his secretaries, announced that the President had, on the 4th instant, approved and signed the following bills and joint resolution: … S. 7515. An act to reserve lands to the Territory of Alaska for educational uses, and for other purposes.”

With passage, Wickersham had the momentum needed to justify pouring his cornerstone for the university on July 4, 1915. The university, in turn, served as a cornerstone institution for Alaska, bolstering the state’s successes during the past century. Many Alaskans look forward to another such century.

(This article was written by Sam Bishop, UAF Marketing and Communications.)

Snow art project set for March 14 at Fairbanks Experiment Farm

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm fields will be the "canvas" for a a snow drawing event for adults and teens Saturday, March 14 at 10:30 a.m. Participants 14 and up are invited to join artist Sonja Hinrichsen in creating a large-scale art project in the snow. The event is hosted by the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

Hinrichsen is an artist-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. She has created snow art with community partners all over the world. Participants will need to bring snowshoes, warm layers and enough water and food to last a full, active day. A few snowshoes are available for loan from the museum’s teaching collection.

Jennifer Arseneau, the museum’s manager of education and public programs, said the museum was approached by partners at the National Park Service to work on a project that would be accessible to more people in Fairbanks. She said the timing was serendipitous, as the museum is celebrating art this month in its family programming.

“Families coming to the museum for Family Day: Art will be able to see the work in progress and witness changes throughout the afternoon. The museum's lobby windows are the perfect viewing location for the fields,” Arseneau said.

Advance registration at bit.ly/uamnadulted is required to participate.

The event is presented by the National Park Service and the UAF Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station. "This will be a great opportunity for community members to work with an experienced artist, as well as family and friends to collaboratively create something. I love that it's outdoor art and that no one, including Sonja, knows what the end product will be,” Arseneau said.

The Denali Park artist-in-residence program has hosted more than 50 writers, composers and artists since 2002. Following a 10-day residency, each artist volunteers to lead a public outreach activity with visitors.